By LEKE BAIYEWA
Chief Ayo Opadokun is a former Secretary-General of the National Democratic Coalition and ex-General Secretary of the Yoruba socio-political group, Afenifere. In this interview with LEKE BAIYEWU, he talks about the ongoing crisis in the All Progressives Congress and the National Assembly
The All Progressives Congress is less than two years old as a political party and only one month as the ruling party. Are you happy with what is going on in the party now?
I am certainly not. The basic platform upon which the All Progressives Congress invited Nigerians to assess it as to its programmes and policy thrust can be summarised into two major national crises that we have – indiscipline and corruption. And as a party, the APC presented to Nigerians that it has the capacity to instil discipline and bring corruption to near non-existence. I think, Nigerians, having assessed the antecedents and profile of Muhammadu Buhari and Professor Yemi Osinbajo, I voted for the duo based on the conviction that the two can bring about a formidable change. Nigeria had been held captive. It had been held down by these two evils: indiscipline and corruption.
Nigerians are expectant; they are expecting immediate resolution and change from the current disastrous existence in the country. That is why I will not be happy that even before the government takes off, a fundamental subversion that could totally derail the APC’s promise to Nigerians had taken place. Some of us who laid down our lives in the campaign for the restoration of democracy to our country during the military era have a reason to be worried. Having gone through an agonising period – in the violence unleashed on us by General Sani Abacha (a late Head of State) some of us lost our sweat, blood and liberty; and some people had to abandon their comfort and had to go away as foreigners (on exile) as Abacha remained in power – we thought that if we succeeded in sending the military back to the barracks, we would have a government in office under which a greater majority of Nigerians will enjoy better living conditions.
What do you make of Dr. Bukola Saraki’s emergence as Senate President and the ensuing drama?
The fact that a senior member of the APC leadership, namely Dr. Bukola Saraki, for his vaunting and inordinate ambition, decided to go and sell the victory recorded by Nigerians against the Peoples Democratic Party to the PDP for him to become the President of the Senate is a major disaster and it has fundamental dimensions. It seems to some of us that it is a sure sign that some people in the conspiracy are already preparing themselves for 2019; that is one dimension.
Another fundamental dimension is that President Buhari will need to update, review and amend the laws and regulations upon which the anti-graft agencies are currently operating. He will need the National Assembly to be on the same page with him so that they can make amendments to such laws that may be envisioned by the executive. That seems to me to have been greatly subverted. Nigerians should not forget that Saraki was the Governor of Kwara State. He is currently facing a criminal trial on his performance in office. What they have done is that they have succeeded, as the leading cabal of governors, to totally subvert the basic laws of the country.
It is a kind of nauseating rehearsal to find that when the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission presents to the public that they are doing their job by taking them to courts, their (governors) lawyers will request for bail orally, the courts will refuse and ask them to bring papers for it. And the next time, the courts will grant them bail. When the EFCC wants to do something against them, they will secure injunctions called pronouncements halting and prohibiting any EFCC act on them. Almost 18 to 20 ex-governors are facing trial till today, and Saraki is one of them. That makes him a total misfit for that office in this period and that is part of our worries. A party leader, knowing what convention permits to happen for the majority party, decided that for his personal advantages, he should go and conspire with the minority party that had provided very wicked rule to Nigerians in the last 16 years, brought it back into reckoning and offered it the plump office the Senate Deputy President; that is total chaos.
Therefore, we believe that the APC has a duty to God, to Nigerians and to itself not to allow this kind of conspiracy to be left unpunished. The APC has to utilise all the provisions in its constitution to impose sanctions for such grave misdemeanour.
Would you agree that the APC became an organisation of strange bedfellows after it opened its doors to several defectors from other parties?
That will not be a good way to look at the issue. When you are forming a political party, the constitution allows every Nigerian. You cannot prevent anyone from coming in and you are not forcing anyone to come. Each person will come individually or as a group voluntarily. And you have to subscribe to party regulations, constitution and manifesto as approved by the convention. These ones who came, whether strange bedfellows or not, cannot be legitimately denied the opportunity to come and join the party if they so desired. Nobody forced APC on them, voluntarily they came. Therefore, they must subscribe to those aspirations and philosophy that were the bedrock of the formation of the party.
Secondly, what has happened has other dimensions which some people may not be thinking about. What is now called the Nigeria Governors’ Forum was started by former governor (of Lagos) Bola Tinubu; he hosted the first two or three meetings. And all that they (the governors) were doing was how they could exchange views to enhance performances in their various states; so that they could tell their colleagues what they were doing in terms of infrastructure and education, among others. That was what the NGF was meant to do. When he left office, (Obong Victor) Attah of Akwa Ibom State took over. He too elegantly made that forum to worth its salt. But as soon as Saraki took over, the forum became an amalgamation of dubious power brokers, who were intimidating successive presidents in office because they were always waiting to let the president in office know they were in control of the delegates that would come to (party) conventions and congresses. And on the basis of that, any president who did not want to meet their personal obligations was in trouble. Ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo in his second term bid had to be virtually prostrating the night before the 2003 election at their (PDP) convention. He visited every state, virtually prostrating before them. That was why when he secured the power (for a second term), he dealt with them.
Now, when the so-called New PDP broke apart from their mother – the PDP – and came into the APC, they started that bulk game of the governors’ forum. All their so-called desire to ensure that every group has something is about their affront against Tinubu, who God had used significantly. For eternity, no one or vicious activity can undermine the contribution that God has used Tinubu to make as to how the vision that eventually translated into the APC and that eventually brought about an opposition that won the March 28 presidential election. You will see that all they are doing is to make themselves as a counterforce but you don’t do that at the expense of the party you came into voluntarily.
Some have claimed that the battle is not against the person of Tinubu but against his domineering influence in the party. Is this not good for a democracy?
It is not and it can never be. There were serious thought and painstaking roundtable discussions before the vision was packaged. The New PDP came, like other groups, and they sat down several times to come up with a composite constitution and manifesto. Under Section 9(2) of their constitution, every party member is expected to behave in accordance with the agreed party stand on every matter. The constitution prohibits any act that will bring the party into public odium, ridicule and contempt. And that is what this conspiracy has resulted in. People have been asking questions: ‘Haven’t Nigerians really made a mistake in voting the APC into power, if the first fundamental thing they should do – the composition of the legislature – has this kind of negative crisis?’
What they have done and what they are doing till today is to subject the party to public ridicule, odium and contempt in the mind of Nigerians and the international public. This disaster will spell a doom for the APC. It will not be able to go far if what has been done is not dealt with in accordance with the party’s regulation.
Have you considered what APC stands to lose if it insists on punishing the errant lawmakers and they decide to leave the party?
When they do so, there is now a court decision. You cross over, you lose your seat and you have to go and re-contest to remain in office.
Will this also apply if this group first creates a division in the party, which is one of the conditions for defecting from one party to another?
That was not accepted by the court. That judgment said there was no obvious division within the party. The court’s decision, till date, still remains that you have to forfeit that seat. You have to go back and campaign on the platform of the new party you have joined. They do not have that liberty any longer.
With the recent events in the APC, can you now confirm that not all those in the party are progressives as the APC proclaims?
Their conduct and behaviour will expose them for what they are. Quite a number of them saw that the change mantra had been accepted by the majority of Nigerians and that the APC was most likely going to win. That was why they came. Most of these characters do not have any abiding faith; they do not have any positive philosophy. Their philosophy is about power and money – those are the two oracles they worship. This, wherever the two can be acquired, that is where they will go. It is not because they are interested in any service to the people. People like us are worried. President Buhari keeps assuring Nigerians that he will face and fight corruption; that he will kill corruption before corruption kills Nigeria. Buhari cannot start this ball game before Nigerians start pointing accusing fingers to the Senate leadership as represented by Saraki. They will have to explain to Nigerians what happened to Societe Generale Bank. Nigerians might have forgotten; they may not even know that under the chairmanship of Nuhu Ribadu (of the EFCC), the affairs of Societe Generale was totally investigated and the results were made available by the anti-graft body. It was just that somebody – a highly placed person close to Obasanjo then kept appealing to him (Obasanjo). He (Saraki) ought to have been sanctioned a long time ago.
A number of Nigeria’s public funds were lost in the process. Many ordinary people had their savings and investments totally lost in that bank. With their conduct, the mother body of Societe Generale had to withdraw its equity and it did not take a long time before they ‘finished’ the bank totally and it went under. Yes, they succeeded in manipulating the system. They said the bank should be returned to them but in the last seven to 10 years, nobody has heard anything about Societe Generale. It is lost for good. If the President is set about getting such inordinate acquisition they have made to be brought into public arena, he would need perhaps a retuning of the laws governing the anti-graft agencies. Do not forget that under Saraki’s watch, he collapsed the Trade Bank which was hitherto owned by Kwara and Kogi states. In fact, in his first two months in office as the governor of Kwara, he directed that state federal allocation to the state should be deposited in Societe Generale. Kwara people had to campaign vigorously on the pages of newspapers. He was forced to first return the allocation to Trade Bank but he did what he wanted to do by withdrawing allocations from Trade Bank and that bank collapsed.
Why should the party insist on punishing the rebel lawmakers, even when the President had said he was ready to work with whoever emerged as leaders of the National Assembly and the National Chairman of the APC said the party was ready to work with the new reality?
It is a pity the President, I think, has a wrong understanding of the chemistry of party politics and its consequences. He is a military man and he wants to make Nigerians believe that really he has been transformed into a democrat. In political office, he needs the legislature to be on the same page with him; he could not secure that with the current leadership, particularly in the Senate. I cannot see any graver offence any party man can commit than the kind Saraki had done to the APC; conspiring with the PDP. And it did not matter to him any longer whatever other juicy offices that were available that the PDP was ready to take. And he believes that he will remain that way? They will continue to vote as if they have single majority, even though they cannot have two-third majority. That is what it seems they are embarking upon. But that will not help Nigerians.
Now, Europe and America have been assuring President Buhari that they will help to expose huge sums of monies that have been stored in their banking institutions, to return them to Nigeria. When you have that kind of a leader in Buhari and assisted by his vice, an erudite and highly credible law professor – a very active one, you don’t need a Saraki to preside over the legislature. Because in your fight against corruption, they will have to rework the laws and regulations upon which these anti-graft agencies are operating. For example, I know President Buhari and Prof. Osinbajo will want to give the agencies full independence to do their job without any clearance. And that is part of the things that can help us to win the battle against corruption. But if the one who has interests to protect is presiding over the affairs of the legislature, you should know that you have a problem in your hands.
Why do you think most of the criticisms have been directed at only Saraki, even though the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, and other lawmakers committed a similar offence?
The truth of the matter is that what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. I believe that he (Dogara) should also be sanctioned in that way. However, they (the lawmakers in the House) waited for every member to come into the chamber. This one (Senate leadership election) was inordinately done in haste. Before people knew what was happening, they had finished the process to the extent that about 51 of the APC senators were disenfranchised. They could not take part in the election of who will preside over their affairs. That was a major disaster for a party and I think the APC should see the matter in that light. For how long were they in the APC before they got elected? A platform had been doing a yore man job in mobilising the people, in creating awareness, in networking locally and internationally to create a momentum that eventually led to the victory of the APC. That momentum has been, unfortunately, halted for now. The APC leadership must act dispassionately and strongly to impose sanctions on all the elements that conspired against it. And when I look around and saw that the Zamfara State man and the Gombe State man were the ones who sponsored Saraki and the PDP, I felt sorry for the country.
If APC should mete out punishment to Saraki, Dogara and others, what can the party do to the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, who is from the PDP?
The party can come out to impose sanctions to the extent that it can win back its members who have strayed. That is possible. With the number of PDP members in the Senate, once the APC members can retain their simple majority, they are in the position, along with their executive, to generate a momentum that will bring about additions to their membership. That is political and it is a necessity that they have to embark upon. In this kind of situation, it will be necessary for the APC to go to the constituency of some members at the national level to campaign for or against them; to the extent that it should be able to recall some members (of the National Assembly). Their constituencies should be willing to recall some of them because they have betrayed the cause of the party.
Should Saraki lose his seat due to defection, how can the APC prevent Ekweremadu from succeeding the Senate President?
I am not a member of the national executive of the APC. I am an activist and the convener of the Coalition of Democrats for Electoral Reform. My concern is that the APC must go back to the drawing board. There are one or two things they can do that I do not want to say because I may be sounding partisan. All that I have said is because we fought seriously for the current situation and we have seen our gain, in our very eyes, being subverted by these characters. That is our major grouse. If it is the ordinary things they do in their right-wing party politics, it won’t affect people like us. We thought that God has given us ample time to have a leadership that can confront and win over the two evils (indiscipline and corruption) that we have in the country and bring them to subjection. That was what led to our excitement. But that excitement has been subverted currently.